Awards are the marks of recognition and encouragement given in honour of any special achievement in certain categories, which also signify the credibility and speciality of a person or any organization. Among all the prestigious awards recognizing deserving individuals and entities across the world, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, often referred to as the "Nobel Prize of Asia" stands in today's world as a very special, exclusive and significant one. The award was initiated as an annual badge of honour created to commemorate former Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay's example of honesty in administration, fearless service to the people, and realistic idealism within a democratic society. Established in 1957 by the New York-based Rockefeller Brothers Fund in cooperation with the Filippino Government, the Ramon Magsaysay Award celebrates the value of integrity, courage, and selfless service of Asian individuals impacting Asian landscapes.
There is a reason behind elaborating on awards in this write-up, especially the Ramon Magsaysay Award in particular, as Korvi Rakshand, revered for his social activities as the founder of JAAGO Foundation, has been nominated for the 2023 Ramon Magsaysay Award in the Emergent Leadership category. With this year's award, Korvi Rakshand joins the distinguished list of 344 outstanding individuals and organisations whose selfless service has offered their societies, Asia, and the world, by offering successful solutions to some of the most intractable problems of human development.
Through achieving this badge of honour, he also joined the prestigious Hall of Fame of 13 Bangladeshis who won the award in the past. The list includes prominent scientist Firdausi Qadri (2021), environmentalist and social activist Syeda Rizwana Hasan (2012), Founder and Executive Director of Centre for Disability in Development (CDD) AHM Noman Khan (2010), eminent journalist and Prothom Alo Editor Matiur Rahman (2005), eminent educationist Abdullah Abu Sayeed (2004), prominent social worker Angela Gomes (1999), revered village society reformer Mohammad Yeasin (1988), Co-Founder of the Notre Dame College in Dhaka Father Richard William Timm (1987), legendary pharmacist and Gonoshasthaya Kendra founder Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury (1985), Nobel Laureate and founder of Grameen Bank Dr Mohammad Yunus (1984), Brac founder Sir Fazle Hasan Abed (1980) and Tahrunnesa Abdullah in 1978, recognized for her pioneering role as a social reformer for Muslim women in society.
From educating a little group of children at the capital's Rayer Bazaar slum to being nominated for the 2023 Ramon Magsaysay Award, Korvi Rakshand has been leading a revolutionary social transformation all over Bangladesh. For an afternoon chat to deep dive into Korvi Rakshan's role as a journeyman, Dhaka Courier recently visited his office at JAAGO's Banani headquarters in the capital. The entire office setting in the complex redirects as a memory lane of JAAGO's monumental journey for the past 16 years in the country, and within the short office tour and an exclusive interview with DC, Korvi Rakshand elaborated on the eventual past, present and future state of his esteemed organization.
"The journey of JAAGO Foundation began in 2007 at the Rayer Bazaar slum in the capital, with the initial goal of teaching English to underprivileged children totally free of cost - because we thought this would help them conquer the language barriers in their next career steps, be it inside or outside the country. We were amazed to see the response of those 17 children as they asked about promotions to the next class, which made us realise that they envisioned our initiative as a school, and that led us to begin our first school in the Rayer Bazaar slum. Our efforts began to get recognized by society through several of our activities, but we realised the need to expand our efforts beyond Dhaka. We modelled a curriculum integration of both classroom-based and remote education that tremendously brought success in terms of educating children, especially in the difficult times during the pandemic, and now we are focusing on mainstream quality education and bridging the learning gaps with skill-based education to students who are unable to complete traditional studies. At present, JAAGO works with five focus areas - Education, Youth, Women, Climate Change and Governance, operated by more than 600 employees and more than fifty thousand volunteers across the country."
The reason behind selecting the name:
"In Bengali, the name 'Jaago' redirects to make someone wake up from sleep. Education is the light beam for society to get up and shine bright, and we consider it our responsibility to initiate the much-needed wake-up call with education. The bold, capitalised wording of JAAGO redirects as an invitation to everyone, to join our movement with love, support and contributions. The vibrant yellow colour is most commonly recognised as the colour of friendship, and that is what we do. We bridge the gap in society as its dedicated friend."
On 'Volunteer for Bangladesh':
Under Rakshand's visionary leadership, the JAAGO Foundation also initiated the Volunteer for Bangladesh (VBD) program in 2011. VBD has become a youth movement involving more than 50,000 leaders actively working for social betterment.
"Although the initial aim and vision of the JAAGO Foundation was to focus on children and education, our responsibility increased upon witnessing the enthusiasm of the youth. We diversified our efforts, addressing various other issues including youth development and women's empowerment and eventually established the 'Volunteers for Bangladesh' (VBD) to bring together proactive individuals who could collaborate and contribute their energy and dedication to our activities. In VBD, our volunteers elect their local leaders and the power is completely decentralised to ensure the desired performances at the grassroots level."
Winning the award:
"I was travelling and was at an airport when I received a WhatsApp text from an unknown number. The person introduced herself as Susan Afan, President of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, and wanted to initiate a video call. Initially, I assumed that she was going to discuss someone else, and it was really surprising to know when they informed me that I got selected for this year's Ramon Magsaysay Award. Turned out that they have been following the activities of JAAGO for the last five years, and knowing all these has been pretty surreal to me."
The present and future:
"In 2020, we obtained NGO licensing, enabling us to collaborate with various international organizations. Currently, we partner with organizations such as UNICEF, USAID, and FCDO, and many donors prefer to remain anonymous. At Jaago, anyone can sponsor a child's schooling by contributing BDT 2,000 each month. We introduced an exclusive scholarship program for women students in public universities, to ease their daily lives and economic conditions. Launched last year, we managed to help 100 students and have enlisted 160 students for 2023."
"Accolades are obviously inspiring, but personally I think this award will help us thrive with more accountability. I would really consider myself successful when I see that our work motivates the youth to believe in their capacity to bring about change, and I firmly believe that our youths are that capable," Korvi Rakshand told DC, ending the conversation with gratitude.